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Hamas Gunmen Fire on Fatah Rivals in Gaza

Four people have been wounded in the latest violence between rival Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, a deadly shooting incident has set off a wave of anger against the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas.

Hamas gunmen opened fire on demonstrators from the rival Fatah faction in the Gaza town of Khan Unis, sparking a brief gun battle. Policemen loyal to Fatah returned fire.

The incident occurred as Fatah supporters marched in the streets to protest the killing of three children in a drive-by shooting on Monday. The children's father is a senior intelligence officer who is considered an enemy of Hamas. Fatah blames Hamas for the shooting and is promising revenge.

Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas ordered thousands of armed police to deploy in Gaza in a show of force. He said the killing of children is intolerable.

"This is an ugly and inhuman crime perpetrated by lawless gangs," he said.

The violence is part of a deepening power struggle between the moderate President Abbas and Hamas, which has raised fears of a Palestinian civil war. Tensions increased nearly two weeks ago, when talks between the two sides on forming a national unity government acceptable to the international community collapsed.

The Hamas-led government has been crippled by international sanctions, imposed because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

The dire economic situation is adding fuel to the fire. Hamas has been unable to pay the full salaries of 165,000 government employees since it took power in March. Palestinian analyst Wadia Abu Nasser says most of the unpaid workers, including 80,000 policemen, are aligned with Fatah.

"This current boycott on the Palestinian government is hurting mainly Fatah employees because Hamas is paying its own employees through different channels," he said. "[Those] who are not paid nowadays are mainly Fatah-affiliated activists."

In a move that could further aggravate tensions, Mr. Abbas plans to give a speech on Saturday calling for early elections. Hamas says that amounts to a coup d'état.